​We Are Family

Posted by Howard Menaker in Life After Paralysis on April 25, 2022 # Relationships

Howard and PatrickThe Easter, Ramadan and Passover holidays we have just celebrated often bring families together. TSA and the travel industry said that these holidays brought about the heaviest travel days since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.

All of this makes me think a lot about family. My family of cousins, aunts, and uncles gathers annually for Passover, but I have not traveled to the traditional celebrations in Denver since my spinal cord injury. The travel still feels too daunting to me. But in recent years, my brother and sister-in-law have traveled to be with my husband and me, and we bring together friends for our own take on the Passover celebration.

Why does the family have such a pull on our emotions and psyches? We all know there are families who deeply love each other and like spending time together, and those commonly described as “dysfunctional” inflict psychological harm on each other at any opportunity. But what they have in common is that the family into which we are born or are adopted usually carries significant emotional and psychological power. Maybe that is because the nuclear family consists of the people we know first and best before becoming socialized human beings. Maybe it is because we establish a dependent relationship between need and care as children. In any event, memories of these people and their support, or lack of it, are imprinted into our minds and hearts.

Many of us, whether we are estranged or enjoy our families, form “families of choice” as we become adults. We surround ourselves with people with whom we share interests, people whose company we enjoy, and people who make our lives richer. Look around your dinner table. Ask yourself why you enjoy being with those who are gathered. And bask in their love and caring.

For those of us with spinal cord injuries, often our family of choice includes friends who got us through the hardest times, the days when we were first injured and were faced with a life of disability. It may include doctors, physical therapists or other professionals who have contributed to our healthy lives. We often choose to join in familial relationships with those who understand us best, who treat us most kindly, or who provide medical or emotional support.

It is vitally important to find, or to create, these families of choice. As human beings, we need to feel supported. We need love. We need to know there are people who are there for us. Few of us are true “loners,” who prefer to be alone and thrive in solitude. Almost everyone I know feels better, does better, and accomplishes more in an environment that includes groups of friends and family.

So don’t neglect your need for family support. If you enjoy being with your natural relatives, spend time with them! Or create that family in others who you encounter with similar disabilities. Build your family from those who have supported you. Invent your own family of love and encouragement. Find a community of common interest that feels like “home.” Your chances of recovery, happiness, and deep meaning will increase as you feel the connection with those who care for you.

The Reeve Foundation has many ways to find or create a family. The family within the disability community and those who support us are powerful and affirming. You have already found one resource, one family, in these blogs. If you feel alone, find a Peer Mentor or a support group with whom you can share experiences and ask questions. Use the National Paralysis Resource Center access resources, which are essential to your recovery.

We are here for each other. Together, this family will keep thriving and growing in ways we cannot even anticipate. That’s what family is all about.

Howard Menaker is a retired communications and public affairs executive, with over 30 years of experience in international corporations and trade associations. Previously, he worked as an attorney, specializing in civil litigation. He now devotes much of his time serving on non-profit boards of directors, including a prominent theater company and a historic house museum in the Washington, DC area. He and his husband split their time between Washington and Rehoboth Beach, DE.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.